"Marketing for us runs the company"

Panasonic has been in Malaysia since 1976, providing the local community with a wide range of products and services. Over the past 40 years, the brand has worked hard to garner trust among Malaysians.

Leading the Panasonic Malaysia operations as managing director is Cheng Chee Chung.

Cheng has been in the role for a year, but has grown and evolved over a period of 26 years with the company. He has held numerous hats over the years – first starting with HR and slowly moving into other positions such as sales and marketing. Today he leads a marketing team of over 30.

He says being a managing director of a sales-driven company such as Panasonic requires him to constantly have his marketing hat on. Marketing was also the last role he held for about five years before taking on the managing director duties.

“I always believe marketing is the brain and command centre of the company. The sales folks are the soldiers. For a soldier to win the war, you need to have a strong command centre and brain. You need that before you can send your army into the battlefield,” he says.

And that’s exactly what the marketing landscape has become – a battlefield. Challenges are many as consumers are spoilt for choices, pricing is variable so they can get a cheaper deal easily, and the market is heavily saturated.

Like for many other brands, 2015 was a difficult year for Panasonic because of the implementation of the GST and the rising cost of living.

“My biggest challenge as the MD of Panasonic Malaysia is to achieve sales growth in these uncertain times where demand is shrinking and many competitors are going after the same goal – market share,” he says.

As such, he believes in working hand-in-hand with the marketing department.

“Marketing for us runs the company,” he says. Cheng also makes certain the marketing department has a direct engagement with him on a daily basis.

Decisions and directions are made together to ensure the best approach to the market is adapted. His personal conviction has always been in going back to basics and reaching out to all employees, senior or junior, and adopting an open door policy.

What he advises his marketing team to constantly do is make market visits and to meet customers to grasp the actual market situation and make important decisions based on market data such as market demand, customers’ behaviour and competitor movements.

“My philosophy on marketing is really quite simple. I believe in promoting the real value of a product to the consumers. From advertising to shop displays to engaging the right channel partners, we must ensure that our consumers are well-informed on the benefits and advantages of our products and solutions,” he says.

And to effectively communicate this message to the consumer, brands must have a solid agency partner. Agency partners are there to help brands execute clear messages creatively.

This synergy between clients and agencies needs to be there to avoid misinterpretation, and therefore, misrepresentation of products.

A good agency partner in the eyes of Cheng is one who understands all aspects of the client’s marketing operations from the products to the services and to the channel in which they are distributed. On the other hand, the client must also maintain an open mind towards the numerous strategies that will be presented.

“It is very important to establish clear and simple communication platforms in any company. The time we have at work is very limited and precious. Therefore, effective communication must happen,” he says.

A role model for the local talent pool

Cheng is, to date, only the second Malaysian MD to be at the helm of Panasonic Malaysia. Does that help him to better understand the local talent pool and business, we ask.

While there are advantages of being a local MD in a market such as Malaysia, Cheng says he doesn’t believe it is a key factor that determines success. What is more important is for an MD to have good leadership acumen, and be one who knows his market or business well – regardless of nationality. Most importantly the MD’s vision and mission must be well accepted by staff and the business partners.

“Having a Malaysian MD is indeed a good motivation to other local talents in the company. It is a strong indication for other capable, local people to have aspirations to take up such leadership positions, even as a MD in a multinational company like Panasonic – contrary to the belief that the MD of a Japanese company, must be Japanese,” he says.

Cheng is also a big believer in keeping his staff constantly motivated.

But he admits that is a challenge because today’s Gen Ys are wired differently. They are no longer interested in staying in a company for decades and are constantly looking for the next big thing.

“The Gen Ys are well-informed and have confidence, but they want high-speed progress. They are always on the search for immediate success,” he says.

However, what is really crucial for success is experience and knowledge which can only come over time and hours spent in a certain organisation, he believes.

At Panasonic he ensures his team practises, the motto “make people before product” which is part of the overall business philosophy, believing that every employee is an asset.

What has kept him in the company for this many years is a positive mindset and a sense of accomplishment when overcoming challenges. Setbacks, he says, need to be reframed and seen as potential for success for the next fiscal year.

“A rolling stone never gathers moss,” he says.